The shooting at a synagogue on Friday evening and another on Saturday morning leave at least seven dead and two wounded in a new spiral of violence in East Jerusalem

Two Palestinian attacks in less than 24 hours rock Israel

photo_camera AP/MAYA ALLERUZZO - An Israeli police officer at the scene of a stabbing attack in the city of Elad, Israel, Thursday, May 5, 2022

He was 13 years old. The Palestinian youth shot dead on Saturday morning by police had minutes earlier shot an off-duty Israel Defence Forces officer, 22, and his father, 47. They were crossing the City of David settler settlement where they lived, located inside the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, when the attacker opened fire. The son has been placed on a ventilator; the father is in stable condition. The Palestinian teenager is in serious condition, according to Israeli army radio.  

"We are in a real state of armed intifada, and this is what is needed to end the occupation," said Tariq Ezz El Din, spokesman for Islamic Jihad, the terrorist militia based in the Gaza Strip, after hearing of the incident. "Blood for blood. Weapons are the only language shared between us and the occupation," said Atta Abu Ramila, secretary general of Fatah in Jenin, the highest Palestinian authority in the West Bank. The divided Palestinian movement seems to have found momentary unity in violence.  

It is the second attack to hit East Jerusalem in less than 24 hours. Friday night saw the bloodiest attack in the Holy City in 15 years. A 21-year-old Palestinian man arrived by car at a synagogue built in the Neve Yaakov settlement shortly before 8.15pm. He waited in the vicinity of the temple until the worshippers left the premises. He opened fire. Seven people were killed, and three others wounded. 

The perpetrator of the massacre, Alkam Khairi, fled. He attempted to flee in his vehicle but was intercepted by police five minutes later. The officers managed to shoot him down after a brief exchange of fire, according to the authorities' account. Like the 13-year-old, he had no previous convictions. But he was part of Fatah's Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militia linked to Fatah's armed wing. A day earlier, police had arrested his father. In 1998, his grandfather died after being stabbed by an Israeli settler, he wanted to take revenge.  

"Our hearts go out to the families of those killed and, of course, to the wounded, we wish them a full recovery," said Benjamin Netanyahu. From the scene, the prime minister acknowledged that the attack is "one of the worst we have seen in recent years". The last attack of this magnitude was in 2008, when an armed group decided to cross Egypt's Sinai Peninsula into Israel and kill eight people. 

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir was less conciliatory and proposed "arming more and more citizens". "I hope that soon the arms policy will change. More and more civilians need to have guns. The government must respond. With God's help, I hope it will," he declared from the vicinity of Neve Yaakov. He was applauded by a cheering crowd demanding "death to the terrorists" and "death to the Arabs".  

Mansour Abbas sought to defuse the tension. The chairman of the United Arab List, the Arab-Israeli Islamist formation represented in the Knesset, which was part of the executive for the first time in its history in the last legislature during the failed Bennett-Lapid tandem, condemned any terrorist attack in which "civilians and innocent people are killed" and called on "everyone to act with restraint and cooperate to find a way to calm the situation and save the lives of many people".  

Worrying escalation  

Israel has been plunged back into a serious spiral of violence in recent weeks, although the situation worsened significantly in the middle of last year with a wave of attacks on Israeli citizens by Palestinians acting alone. The events sent insecurity levels soaring and prompted the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to react harshly. The IDF intensified its incursions into Palestinian areas of the West Bank, killing more than 170 Palestinians in 2022. This was the highest number in 15 years.

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Last Thursday, the IDF carried out a raid on the Jenin refugee camp. Nine Palestinians were killed in the raid, considered by observers to be the bloodiest of its kind in years. In response, the self-styled Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip with an iron fist, launched a failed air strike on Israeli territory. Iron Dome intercepted the rockets, but the air defence system will have more work to do in the coming days or hours.  

Netanyahu's controversial return to power after his election victory in November has reignited the Palestinian cause. Not because of Bibi, a regular in these matters, but because of his new travelling partners. The experienced prime minister dominates the Knesset thanks to his unshakable alliance with the ultra-Orthodox parties, but a new player is gaining strength: Religious Zionism. The ultra-nationalist Jewish supremacist coalition promises to exert pressure on the Palestinians. Itamar Ben Gvir, the number two on the list, wants it to.